The Billionaire's Temporary Bride

By: Avery James

"Like Jack, I'm just honored to be part of Logan and Callie's celebration of love." Charlotte looked at Jack as if to ask what to say next, then she took a step back, looked around and froze.

She stood there for a while, looking from person to person in the crowd like she was trying to follow Jack's advice. Finally, after a long pause, Charlotte raised her glass. "I know Jack beat me to the punch, but I don't think you can celebrate love enough, so here's to Callie and Logan, may you spend the rest of your lives as happy as you are tonight."

Jack held up his glass to toast with Charlotte, and she turned to glare at him.

"You on the other hand," she whispered, "I'll deal with you later."

After the dinner ended, and everyone got up to talk and drink and enjoy the night, Jack slipped out, hoping to avoid Charlotte's wrath. Instead, he simply gave her an opportunity to corner him. Charlotte charged outside, heels clacking hard against the deck.

"What the hell were you thinking back there?" she asked. Her nostrils flared and her eyes seemed to glow as she stared at him. Jack swore he could see steam rising from her ears.

"If you decide you're on board for this marriage arrangement, you'll be in the spotlight for the entire time. You'll have to give interviews, talk to reporters, roll with the punches. I'm just giving you an idea of what you're in for. I don't know what Callie told you, but it's not some cakewalk."

"That was humiliating. I don't even know what I said. What made you think my best friend's rehearsal dinner would be a good time to test me?"

"I wanted to help you get over your fear, that's all. I thought if you could see it wasn't a big deal, you wouldn't get so nervous."

"Well, that didn't work. Now I'm doubly screwed tomorrow night."

"How about this? Just talk to Callie and Logan. Look directly at them and talk to them. You're telling them why you're honored to be part of their ceremony. Let them know, and the rest will take care of itself. In life, there are people who matter, and there's everybody else. Don't worry about everybody else. You were great, by the way, short and sweet and to the point. You did absolutely fine. Everyone loved it."

"You have no idea what everyone else thought."

"Fine, I loved it. Am I allowed to tell you that? You were great. I put you in a tough spot and you were graceful about it. Take the compliment."

"You can't just do that to me, you know," Charlotte said. "I felt like I was going to puke."

"Do you want to know the first rule about getting through public events when you're not sure what to say?" Jack asked.

"Don't puke?"

"Really that rule applies to pretty much everything." Jack said. He held up his glass. "I was thinking of a drink. It can be wine or scotch or anything, really. If you're completely flustered and need a moment, take a slow sip, and buy yourself a few seconds. Always carry a drink. Never finish it. Getting tipsy is the last thing you need. I'm sorry if I put you in a tough spot. I'll do better next time."

"You better," Charlotte said. She shook her head and walked away, leaving Jack alone with his thoughts. He rested his weight against the railing and looked out over the water. He still didn't know what to think of her. She didn't care about impressing him. That was for sure. For all his life, all anyone around him cared about was making a good impression and pretending to be important. Everyone was always trying to be something they weren't. By comparison, Charlotte was simply, beautifully honest. He just had no idea if someone like her would agree to be with him.

Chapter 4

Through the window, Charlotte could see the entire back lawn sloping down toward the water's edge. The early afternoon sun glinted off the water. To the left of the house, a large white tent stood waiting for the reception. Workers were setting up the final chairs and arranging flowers along the length of the aisle. The heat had broken in the night, and a cool breeze wafted through the open window.

"Charlotte, a hand?" Callie called.

Charlotte turned to see her friend standing behind a giant bloom of white. It hardly felt right to call it a dress. It was a full ball gown, and it looked like something out of a movie, like Callie was Cinderella and the whole world was her ball. It was the kind of dress Callie had been waiting her whole life to wear.

Charlotte couldn't imagine ever slipping into something like that. It just seemed so over the top. Maybe it was because whenever she imagined her own wedding, she thought a lot less about the setting and a lot more about the man who would be standing across from her.

For as long as she could remember, Charlotte had loved reading stories about improbable, seemingly impossible love: Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley. When she imagined her own wedding, she had always thought about the look in the eye of the groom as he said "I do." The picture was so clear in her mind that she could see it as she stared across the room at Callie in her gown. It was always the same. In her dream of a wedding, the groom would flash Charlotte a knowing smile as if to say, "See, we made it after all, and we'll make it from here on through." That look was all Charlotte needed in her own wedding. The rest of it didn't really matter.

Charlotte didn't think Jack was capable of the look. Sure, he could probably give a conspiratorial smile with the best of them, but considering how he'd described himself she doubted that he'd ever feel a burning passion for her. She doubted he'd ever make her melt or swoon or feel like the only woman in the world. And that's why she absolutely, positively could not marry him, even as a business proposal. She didn't love him, and she didn't see any possibility of ever loving him. She couldn't stand to have a wedding without the groom from her dream.

"Charlotte, are you with us?" Callie asked. "I need you to grab a hair pin off of the bureau for me."

Charlotte snapped back to attention and looked from Callie to the bureau and back again. "Of course," she said.

"Thinking about Jack?" Callie winked.

"No. Well, yes, but I was thinking about how much I can't marry him." Charlotte grabbed the hair pin and handed it to her friend.

"Come on. I saw the way you two were last night. You couldn't keep away from each other."

"That's because you put us together."

"I didn't do that," Callie said, looking puzzled. "I thought it was cute that you two switched seats so you could sit together."

"What?" Charlotte asked. "Are you saying he did that?"

"You didn't hear it from me, but I think he likes you. And you certainly respond to him. The slightest mention of him and your cheeks get flushed with excitement."

"More like annoyance."

"What do you have against him anyway? He's rich, handsome, and super successful. I think he's perfect for you."

"It's too bad I don't."

"Because it's my wedding day, and you're my best friend, I'll forgive you for not recognizing that he's perfect for you."

"Jack's not my type."

"Your type is fictional."

"My last boyfriend was nice and artistic and free-spirited."

"He was unemployed," Callie laughed. "He spent all day sleeping on our couch."

"But he had such pretty eyes," Charlotte said with a sigh. "Besides, what is it you think I'll be doing once I get back from the wedding if not spending a lot of time on the couch?"

"You'll be marrying Jack, of course," Callie said, twirling in her wedding gown to make Charlotte imagine herself in it. "Come on, consider it a wedding gift to me. What do you have to lose?"

Charlotte shook her head. "I don't have anything against him personally. I just don't want to marry someone I don't even know."

"Nonsense. You two were hitting it off last night. Everyone saw the sparks fly."

"He forced me to give a speech. I don't think those sparks were exactly the good kind."

"You hate speaking in public, and he got you to do it. You were great at it, by the way. Maybe he can help you come out of your shell a little bit."

"I rather like my shell. It's very protective," Charlotte said, crossing her arms.

Callie decided to change tack. "Let's try this a different way. What's your perfect guy like?"

"I don't know," Charlotte said. "Handsome, well-read, brooding, world-weary. Hot like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and witty like Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice."

"We know Jack's handsome. You can check that off the list. And well-read? He went to Harvard."

"It's different when you get in because your name is on the building."

"He's smart. You know it," Callie said.

"I want someone with emotional depth, someone who really cares about me, and every day I spend with Jack would be another day I'm not looking for the person I want to spend my life with."

"It's just a few months, Charlotte, and, in that time, you'll be able to do whatever you want. Write a book. Start a company. Learn to make artisanal cheese. It doesn't matter what you do with your days as long as you spend your nights with Jack Coburn for the cameras. Charlotte, have you seen him?"

"Of course I've seen him."

"Have you talked to him?"

"You know the answer to that."

"Then you know how perfect he is. He needs your help, and he's willing to make it very much worth your time. You'll walk away from this with more money than you could make in five years at your current job."

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